Russian defense minister explains why the Kremlin is militarizing the Arctic

putin military russia

Since Russia’s new military doctrine was signed into effect on December 26, the Arctic has been one of three geopolitical arenas deemed by Moscow as vital to national security.

Because of the new importance placed upon the region, Russia has undertaken a series of measures to militarize the Arctic ranging from building a military base on the Finnish border to developing a new military command to respond to threats.

In a ministry board meeting on February 24, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu directly addressed why the Arctic was of such paramount importance. 

“A broad spectrum of potential challenges and threats to our national security is now being formed in the Arctic. Therefore, one of the defense ministry’s priorities is to develop military infrastructure in this zone,” Shoigu told officials at the meeting, according to a translation from Russia Beyond The Headlines. 

Paramount among these concerns for Shoigu is the idea that both neighboring and non-neighboring countries are trying to expand their influence in the Arctic.

“Some developed countries that do not have direct access to the Arctic Circle are taking certain political and military steps to gain such access,” Sputnik News reports Shoigu as saying. These actions are used to justify a stronger Russian military presence in the region. 

Though Shoigu did not directly name which countries were seeking greater influence in the Arctic, it could be a veiled swipe at China. Beijing has been steadily developing a self-coined status as a “near-Arctic state,” The National Interest notes.

To back up this claim, China has undertaken a series of scientific studies with Arctic nations along with providing generous free-trade agreements with Iceland to build support for itself in the region. 

Here is a look at today’s boundaries:

Arctic Territorial Claims

Aside from China, Russia has potential territorial disputes with the other Arctic Council states. Denmark claimed last December that it technically owned the North Pole through a continental shelf attached to Greenland, which is an autonomous Danish territory. 

To further project its power into the Arctic, Russia has undertaken a construction blitz throughout the region. Moscow is training two Arctic warfare brigades and is constructing 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and 10 air-defense radar stations in the region.

Russia will also build up its troop presence in the Chukotka peninsula in the far east of the country across the Bering Strait from Alaska. 

Chukotka Peninsula

“Military troops deployment in Chukotka will make it possible to enhance safety of the Northern Sea Route’s traffic and respond timely to potential military threats in the area,” Shoigu said according to Tass.  

arctic ice northwest passage mapUltimately, Russia is positioning itself to take advantage of the increased trade and natural resources from a melting Arctic. Shipping along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic would cut transit time from Asia to Europe by almost two weeks.

Additionally, the US estimates that the Arctic seabed includes about 15% of the world’s remaining oil, up to 30% of its natural gas deposits, and about 20% of its liquefied natural gas.

Militarization allows Russia to be the dominant player in the region.

SEE ALSO: Militaries know that the Arctic is melting — here’s how they’re taking advantage

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Venezuela is becoming a naked dictatorship

nicolas maduroVenezuela’s “Bolivarian” regime is lurching from authoritarianism to dictatorship.

On February 19th it arrested the elected mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma. Then it moved to expel Julio Borges, a moderate opposition leader, from the National Assembly–a fate already suffered by his colleague, María Corina Machado, ejected last year.

Leopoldo López, another opposition leader, has been in jail for a year and is now on trial. Almost half the opposition’s mayors now face legal action.

The regime’s favourite charge to level at hostile politicians is plotting to overthrow the government, often in conspiracy with the United States. But it is the president, Nicolás Maduro, who is staging a coup against the last vestiges of democracy. Venezuelans call it an autogolpe, or “self-coup”.

Hugo Chávez, who created and presided over the Bolivarian state-socialist system until his death in 2013, was repeatedly elected by Venezuelans, thanks to windfall oil revenues and his rapport with the poor. He took his majority as a mandate to squeeze the life out of Venezuelan democracy, seizing control of the courts and the electoral authority, and suppressing opposition media. Latin America’s governments acquiesced partly because they acknowledged his popular support.

Mr Maduro, though, lacks Chávez’s charisma and political skills–and his luck with the oil price. Crackpot economic policies have brought food shortages, soaring inflation and rising poverty. Popular support for the president and government has collapsed to around 20%. In a fair contest, the opposition would be likely to win parliamentary elections due this year. It could then hold a referendum in 2016 to recall Mr Maduro.


Time to speak up

In one respect–repressing his opposition–Mr Maduro exceeds his former boss. Chávez let rivals challenge him in a free-ish vote. Mr Maduro locks them up. On February 24th a 14-year-old boy at a demonstration against the government was killed by a policeman’s rubber bullet. The policeman was arrested.

But such incidents raise the likelihood that the confrontation between the regime and its critics will turn violent, providing an excuse for still more repression. To that end, the arrest of Mr Ledezma may have been intended to provoke a reprise of last year’s demonstrations against the government, in which 43 people on both sides of the conflict were killed. Those served only to strengthen Mr Maduro.

The prime responsibility for avoiding such violence lies with Mr Maduro. But both the opposition and Venezuela’s neighbours have a role in trying to keep the peace and rescuing democracy. Faced with the regime’s drift towards lawlessness, the opposition’s response should be to redouble its commitment to the rule of law. Mr Ledezma has called for non-violence. The opposition is pressing the electoral authority to set a date for the parliamentary vote.

The opposition deserves help. For too long Latin America has tolerated Venezuela’s abuse of democratic norms. The latest outrages have provoked expressions of concern from Brazil, the Organisation of American States and others. They must do more.

They should demand the release of Mr Ledezma and Mr López and call for guarantees that the election will be fair. If they fail to get them, they should suspend Venezuela from regional groupings, such as the South American Union, which require their members to be democracies. The threat of becoming a pariah might just give Mr Maduro pause.

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Republican hawks stole the show at CPAC. Here’s why that matters.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week, you might have expected to see evidence of the debate raging in the Republican Party over its approach to foreign policy. Instead, the GOP’s loudest and most aggressive foreign policy instincts were on most prominent display. It was less a soul-searching moment, and more hawkfest 2015.

At a marquee foreign policy panel, for example, Sen. Tom Cotton got the biggest applause for this line: “Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden made the right decision to support George Bush in the Iraq war.” About ten seconds later, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), who like Cotton is an Iraq vet, denounced the 2003 decision to invade. The crowd was silent.

That’s as a good a summary of the CPAC approach to foreign policy as you can get. A hawk was cheered. A skeptic was ignored.

And while CPAC appeals to the most conservative wing of the party, the rise of the hawks here is part of a much broader trend in the GOP. There are three big reasons for the return of the GOP’s aggressive foreign policy and each says something important about the 2016 race.

1) The ISIS crisis


Every plausible candidate for the 2016 GOP nomination – with the notable exception of non-interventionist Rand Paul – has advanced a pretty aggressive approach to world politics. The place it is most true: ISIS, which was clearly CPAC’s most popular foreign affairs topic. At times, the conference felt like a competition as to who could be more aggressive with respect to the group.

“ISIS represents the worst threat to freedom since communism,” former Texas Governor Rick Perry said.

“We kill the terrorist leaders before they kill us,” Sen. Ted Cruz, also of Texas, said.

Governor Bobby Jindal (LA) won huge applause for demanding that America “hunt down and kill these radical Islamic terrorists.”

There’s a reason that ISIS, more than Iran or Russia, took the spotlight at CPAC. They are a simple, unambiguous evil — one that harkens back to the early 2000s, when the GOP’s war on terrorism rhetoric helped it dominate Democrats at the polls before Iraq went sour.

Moreover, the group’s June 2014 rampage across northern Iraq appears to have transformed the party base’s feeling on foreign affairs. In November 2013, only 18 percent of Republicans told Pew the US was doing “too little” to “solve world problems.” By August 2014, that figure jumped up to 46 percent, a plurality. In February 2015, 86 percent of Republicans said that ISIS was a major threat to the US in a CBS poll; 72 percent supported using US ground troops against it.

So it makes sense that, at a major conservative conference, Republican primary candidates would take aggressive, hardline positions on ISIS. The audience – the sort of people these prospective candidates need in a primary – wouldn’t approve of anything else.

2) Barack Obama

Obama on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Pete Souza/White House/Getty Images)

It’s not just ISIS that gives Republican 2016 candidates an incentive to tack hawkish: it’s also President Obama himself.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has adopted a fairly restrained approach to world affairs. Given Republicans’ toxic view of Obama, candidates have an incentive to run in the exact opposite direction.

And after the slew of global crises that plagued 2014, it looks like the general electorate is starting to share their view. A Pew poll released on February 26 found that, for the first time in Obama’s presidency, the public believes Republicans could do a “better job” handling foreign policy than Democrats.

“Nobody is going to run in 2016 and say ‘eight more years of Obama’s defense and foreign policy,'” James Jay Carafano, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for International Studies, said at CPAC’s big foreign policy breakout session. He was, quite clearly, speaking for the Republican field.

3) The party infrastructure

Cruz at CPAC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The foreign policy panel was revealing in another way. Besides Carafano, Sen. Cotton, and Rep. Zinke, the last panelist was John Bolton, George W. Bush’s famously hawkish Ambassador to the UN. Zinke’s retrospective opposition to the 2003 Iraq war aside, all four of the panelists endorsed a fairly muscular approach to current international challenges.

After a discussion on Iran, for example, moderator KT McFarland summarized the panel’s policy proposals as “regime change, regime change on steroids, and bankrupt the bums.” That’s basically accurate, and indicative of the state of the Republican party’s foreign policy apparatus.

From the congressional level down to conservative think tankers and party activists, there just isn’t a big institutional home for non-interventionists. CPAC’s big-name foreign policy panel was stacked with hawks because the conservative movement is stacked with hawks. That means no Republican candidate is likely to buck the hawkish consensus unless they have really strong electoral or ideological reasons to do it.

Where does that leave Rand Paul?

Rand Paul at CPAC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rand Paul is the major exception. Paul’s libertarian approach to foreign policy sees an aggressive foreign policy as just another big government program, likely to fail in the same way that most government programs do. Needless to say, that put Paul at odds with the prevailing hawkish mood at CPAC.

Certainly, Paul has a devoted following. Walking around CPAC, you see Paul fans everywhere, decked out in “Stand with Rand” t-shirts (a slogan popularized by his famous talking filibuster in opposition to the Obama administration’s targeted killing of American citizens suspected of terrorism abroad). This fandom gave Paul’s speech at the main session, which bashed “Hillary’s war in Libya,” a rapturous reception.

But even Rand supporters know that foreign policy could be the issue that kills his candidacy. Foreign policy “is his Achilles heel,” Jonathan Beale, a youthful guy sporting a Young Americans for Liberty pin, told me while waiting in line for Sen. Paul to sign a copy of his book.

“If ISIS scares [Americans] enough times, I don’t think Rand has a chance,” Paul Fosse, a county coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty, told me as he passed out Paul-friendly literature.

Judging from their speeches, the other Republicans clearly get this. They’re willing to adapt to the prevailing mood inside the party on foreign policy while Paul’s ideological commitments prevent him from doing so. It looks like CPAC will be the first of many conservative gatherings where, on foreign policy, Rand stands alone.


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